Sam Rayburn was an absolute slugfest. If you weren’t catching them, you were falling behind fast. Fortunately for my team, Josh Bertrand, Edwin Evers and Jeff Kriet all made the semi-final round on Day 3 of the event, and finished in the top quarter of the field. If you aren’t going to have an angler fishing the final day, you better have multiple finishes in the Top 25, and I was fortunate to have that.
With the flooding and tremendous rain this area has experienced over the last few months, Lake Dardanelle and the Arkansas River is to be changing every day. With very little forecasted rain over the next week, it seems the water could possibly return to a normal or consistent level once the tournament rolls around, but I would expect it to change daily during practice and into the event.
BUCKET A: CONNELL
My pick: Dustin Connell
The rookie has certainly come into his own over the last few events, as he cashed in on a win at Ross Barnett and another Top 25 at Sam Rayburn. He is firmly in the lead in Rookie of the Year. Dardanelle is one of the fisheries that Connell has college fishing experience on. The name is Lake Dardanelle, but it fishes like a river because it’s one of the major points on the Arkansas River, his river experience should pay off.
Watch out for: Jason Christie
It can be hard for anglers to repeat victories on certain fisheries, but if anyone can then it could be Christie. He is fishing great this year and is in charge of the Toyota Angler of the Year race so far. He has two Top 10’s this season and hasn’t finished worse than 42nd.
BUCKET B: SHRYOCK
My pick: Fletcher Shryock
Fletcher Shryock has fished well this season so far. Besides an uncharacteristic struggle with smallmouth to start the year and a stumble at Sam Rayburn, his other finishes have been strong. His love for flipping should shine at Dardanelle with plenty of places for the current oriented bass to hide.
Watch out for: Keith Poche
If Keith Poche had a defined style of fishing that he prefers, it would have to be targeting shallow, angry bass. He grew up fishing in Cajun country down in Louisiana and now makes his home in Alabama, but Poche seems to do well around cypress trees and dirty water. We saw him prove that at Ross Barnett with a Top-12 finish.
BUCKET C: LOWEN
My pick: Bill Lowen
Bill Lowen lives in Indiana, but will feel right at home at Dardanelle. The check-master himself has cashed in twice at Dardanelle, and if this event takes a turn for the worse and becomes super tough, expect Lowen to do even better.
Watch out for: Scott Rook
Arkansas native and river rat Scott Rook has seen Dardanelle in every possible condition, so if the water is high, or if it’s falling fast, Rook should know when to zig or when to zag.
BUCKET D: LINTNER
My pick: Jared Lintner
Depending on the changing conditions, it could set up perfectly for Jared Lintner. He’s in Bucket D basically because of a 104th-place finish at Okeechobee, but with 2 Top 50’s and 2 finishes in the 60’s to 70’s he can make a jump in AOY with a good finish at Dardanelle.
Watch out for: Tommy Biffle
It’s not surprising to see Tommy Biffle with a higher ownership percentage here than most events because he is one of the best flippers in the game. The same high water that has greeted Arkansas for much of the last two months has also greeted his home state of Oklahoma so there is no doubt he has kept tabs on the constant changes and what it should do to the fishing.
BUCKET E: HAMILTON
My pick: Skylar Hamilton
With possible high water or at least muddy, washed out areas it could certainly help to have an aluminum rig. It just so happens that Dardanelle is a fishery where an aluminum boat produced a win back in 2009 when Mark Menendez wowed the fishing world. Hamilton can certainly get around some areas up river that could be tricky otherwise.
Watch out for: Chad Morgenthaler
Dardanelle can be a stingy fishery, but it can also be a place where an angler can load the boat on a stretch of grass or bushes. For Chad Morgenthaler, that is certainly a possibility because he has two wins in the last four seasons in Bassmaster completion, and during both had a big rod in his hands.